I ran from the guards, I ran from de Vayre, I ran from the new voice that screamed in my head. Every time I blinked, I saw a vital image of the poor boy I had just reaped floating in the dark. I felt sick.
The streets of the Crown-in-Between slept as I stumbled my way through the warren, the pitch and fuel lamps guttering out in the last few moments of night. Few people were out and about. All I had to deal with was the guards’ dogged pursuit, the slippery cobbles and muddy dirty tracks, and the stinking mire I slipped in and out of as I passed from the main streets to the alleys and back again.
The boy's screams pursued me. He battered at my mind, his soul trying to break free from the prison I had trapped him in. I heard him whimpering and pleading, just looking for a reason, an explanation. Why has this happened to me? What has happened to me? Who has done this to me? I wished I could give him an answer, but I had other things on my mind.
The sounds of pursuit were ever present, closing in around me like the jaws of a trap. I darted through the streets at random, hoping to throw the guards off the scent. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. They would have found the dead body – those guards would be out for blood. I know that I would have been if I were in their shoes. If they caught me, they would kill me and de Vayre be damned.
Darting into an alleyway, I took refuge beneath the arched entrance of a tenement building. The sounds of pursuit drew nearer, and I saw three guards run past the entrance to the alleyway, obviously convinced that I had continued on down the main street. I collapsed down to my haunches, allowing myself a few moments to catch my breath and try to work out what to do next.
The pain in my shoulder flared. Pulling my shirt away from the wound with a grimace, I checked it. The bullet had grazed me, thank the Goddess. It was bleeding profusely, but it didn’t appear life threatening. It should hold out until I got to somewhere safer. Where, of course, was another problem entirely.
I couldn't go home. I hadn’t paid my landlord in three weeks, and I was sure that de Vayre would have asked the Lord Justice for as much information as he could give her. Considering how Gielding felt about me, I was sure he would have supplied her with everything she needed.
Tess was no longer an option, and I wondered whether she ever would be again. I had a small list of allies, and it was being rapidly shortened. There was still Kielley, but getting out into the Dregs would mean passing through a checkpoint or through a gate. I wracked my brains, but my thoughts were diffuse and scattered.
The bag. I seized on the thought. Casting a quick look out at the alleyway and the street beyond, I deposited it in front of me and pulled the ties open. A leather wallet sat right on top. Damn! Wincing, knowing what I would find, I dragged the wallet out, undid the tie and let it fall open.
I’m sure Faversham would have done a wonderful job creating a series of passe-portes and false papers that would have allowed me to pass through any part of the city without raising suspicions. They would have been perfect. Before I had dragged them underwater.
They were ruined beyond any hope of recovery. There was absolutely nothing I could do with them.
The only thing to have survived with some semblance of its former worth was the invitation to Pemberley’s ball. Folding it up and slipping it in my pocket, I tossed the others in the ditch with the rest of the shit.
I rummaged around in the bag. I discovered a pouch of coin, a knife and a replacement set of clothes. Hefting the pouch in my hands, I realised that Faversham had given me a small fortune. One piece of good news. I allowed myself a small smile. Good old Tess.
The sight of the money gave me a little ray of hope. I sat there for a moment, my back against the wall of the tenement building behind me, trying to think out my next move. After a few moments, I realised that I only really had one option.
Kit. He had offered to help me in the inn. He had always been there for me in the past. I could count on him.
Mind made up, I snuck a peek around the archway. The alleyway was empty. Hurrying out onto the main street, I took a moment to get my bearings, then turned left, heading back the way I had come. Eyes flickering from building to building and ears pricked for any sign of pursuit, I set off for the theatre district.
Getting into the Glory turned out to be easier than I had thought. When I arrived, I found a wagon pulled up outside, with two men struggling to unload it with barrels and boxes. I offered my help and minutes later I was inside.
A small corridor led to the pit, a large open space where the great unwashed could watch the play for a single copper piece. All around me rose three levels of seating, protected by balconies.
One of the members of the Earl of Pemberley’s Men stood in the middle of the rush-strewn earthen floor. He looked up as I stumbled out into the Pit, then waved me towards the stage, where three men were practicing fencing under the eagle eye of an older actor.
“Take it through to the tiring house.”
I nodded as best I could, then continued on my laborious trek towards the stage.
Stepping carefully around the edge of the stage, avoiding everyones eyes just in case someone recognised me, I headed for the curtain that separated the Pit from the rear part of the theatre. Known as the tiring house, this was where the players prepared before the play began.
Bedlam reigned inside. I had been back here once before, not in the Glory but in another theatre, so I knew what to expect. Still, I was still taken aback by the sheer level of chaos that surrounded me. What had been an open area had been split into multiple rooms and chambers by stringing rope between the walls and hanging sheets. People ran in every direction, jumping in and out of costumes. I saw a young boy running after a barking dog, trying desperately to catch him. A woman wearing nothing but a pair of men's shorts over her nether regions darted out of a nearby cubicle, not even blushing as I took in her wonders. In fact she grinned at me, winked, then headed towards another chamber.
Setting down the barrel in one of the first storage rooms I found, I stepped into the shadows as Frowns appeared. He looked around for me, scowled, then turned and walked out muttering to himself. I waited for a few moments and then snuck out.
I made my way through the insanity slowly, trying to find Kit. He would be in the middle of all of this somewhere, making final preparations for the beginning of the play. His job as fixer also included producing the play, making sure the lines were said at the right time and everyone was where they needed to be when they needed to be. Sounded like fun, actually.
I heard him before I saw him. Hiding behind one of the cloth walls, I peered into a room at the rear of the theatre. He held the same brown dog I had seen earlier in his arms and was berating the young boy who had been running after him.
"...And make sure that you keep a hold of him this time," he shouted after the boy who was already running back towards the stage, the dog struggling to get away.
As soon as the boy had gone, I stepped inside. Kit turned; his mouth open to ask me what the hell I was doing there, then he saw me. His eyes widened, his mouth dropping open.
"Hi Kit. Listen, I- -"
"What the hell are you doing here?" He looked around nervously, as if afraid of something. "You shouldn't have come."
"Kit, you have to help me. Something has happened and..."
"No! You have to go." He strode towards me, grabbing me by the arm. "I'll get you out of here. We should be able to before..."
"Before what, exactly, Kit?"
Kit froze, stopping dead. I turned my head to see two burly men dressed as pirates stood at the back of the room. They held cudgles in their hands and they were glaring. At me.
"What's going on here, Kit?" one of them asked. "What exactly do you think you're doing with him?"
"Listen, Andrew, both of you, this isn't what it looks like."
"You're not trying to help this murderer?"
Murderer?! I looked at Kit. "What's going on, Kit?"
Kit opened his mouth to say something, then obviously thought better of it. Closing his eyes, he shook his head, then took a deep breath before opening them again.
“What?” I spun around to see both men rushing me. I backed up, tripped over my own feet and went down, landing hard on my arse. Not the most effective escape in the annals, I’ll grant you.
Both men were on me before I could even attempt to get back up, reaching down and hauling me to my feet. One of them, the one Kit had called Andrew, held me with one hand on my arm and the other around my neck, squeezing and pinching my skin as hard as he could. I could only look from one to the other, trying to make sense of what the hell was going on.
“What do we do with him?” the other man, his face narrow like a rat’s, asked.
“Nothing. Not here anyway. We’ll take him out back and get everyone together."
Both men nodded. Holding me tight, they dragged me out into the corridor, Kit not far behind.
The dress rehearsal seemed to have started – there was no one around to watch me half-dragged, half-carried further into the depths of the tiring house. After mere moments we stpped in front of a heavy-looking wooden door.
Kit stepped out in front of us, avoiding my eyes, and pulled out a set of keys. I noticed that his hands were shaking as he fumbled through the keys. What the hell did he have to be nervous about? I was the one with these two bruisers clutching at my arms. After more fumbling, he found the right key and used it to unlock the door.
A huge meaty hand slapped me on the back, thrusting me forward. I lost my footing. Everything slid past me in a blur. I barely had time to glimpse a large table surrounded by a disparate set of chairs before I barrelled into them, sending chairs tumbling to the floor around me. One of them poked me in the stomach, my breath bursting out in a belch. Pain erupted from the wound in my shoulder and I bit back a gasp.
Before I had time to recover, I felt myself grabbed from behind and pulled to my feet. I stared into the maddened eyes of the one Kit had called Andrew. He grinned at me, his breath coming in quick hitched breaths. I tried to recoil, more from the smell of his breath than anything else. He didn’t seem to care, lifting me off my feet and throwing me across the room at the near wall. Hard.
I hit the wall and rebounded, falling over in a mess of arms and legs. By the time I was able to make out up from down, Andrew was coming for me again. I wobbled to my feet, tried to raise my fists against him, but failed miserably to protect myself. His fist struck my cheek and I flailed backwards, hitting my head against the wall.
This time, I didn't bother to try and get up. I sprawled there, my back against the wall, as Andrew reached down and grabbed me again, hauling me to my feet. Before he could throw me again, though, I heard Kit's voice.
He did, though he kept his fist wrapped around the front of my shirt, and turned to glare at Kit.
“Why are you protecting this murderer?”
“Stop calling him that! We don’t know what happened yet. And even if what they said is true, this isn’t the way to deal with it. We’re a family, we make these kind of decisions together.”
Andrew hesitated for a moment, then grunted in agreement.
I had followed this whole conversation as if from a distance, the ringing in my ears making it difficult to concentrate. Andrew lifted me and hauled me in one swift motion across the room, depositing me in one of the chairs that hadn't been thrown over by my entrance.
Getting behind me, Andrew gripped my wrists, pulling my arms behind me, and sending pain lancing down my spine. From behind me, he spoke to the other actor who had accompanied us.
"Get some rope."
The man bobbed his head, then turned and ran out. Coward.
Andrew leant forward, whispering in my ear.
“You’re going to regret ever coming back here, murderer. I promise you that.”
Normally I would have some kind of quick witted reply for him, but at this point I was just happy not to be throwing up.
The door opened again, revealing the other man with a rope in his hand. Two others followed him in, a tall man with greying hair, rouge on his cheeks and a beard twisted up in a net beneath his chin, and a woman dressed in tight-fitting breeches and a shirt open enough to reveal hills and wonders – the same woman who had winked at me earlier on.
As the rat-faced man brought the rope over to Andrew – who wasted no time in wrapping it around and around my hands – the newcomers looked at me and frowned. The man turned to Kit.
“What is going on here?”
“This is him,” Andrew cut in before Kit could respond, pulling the rope tight and then beginning to tie the loose ends to the rear legs of the chair.
“Him? Him who?”
“The man who killed Oaksgrave.”
Both of them gasped. The man’s frown deepened, while the woman looked at me as though she wanted to cut my throat. I was starting to get a vague inkling of what was going on here, and it was making me feel sick.
“Kit, what is going on here? What is he doing here?"
“He came to see me,” Kit replied before Andrew could.
Kit rolled his eyes. “Don’t act all surprised, Lawrence. You all knew that Daniel was a friend of mine, you all saw us talking that night.”
“And were you planning on telling us about him or just letting him escape?” Andrew asked.
“What are you accusing me of?”
Before Kit could answer, the door opened again, revealing another woman, tendrils of red hair escaping from a cap, followed by two dwarves dressed in bright yellow and green clown costumes. When they saw me, though, neither of them made a joke. Lips drawn back in feral growls, they reached for the knives they had hitten in their wide bottomed trousers.
Not that I was afraid of two little men, of course. Still, I was grateful when Kit stepped between them and me
“Calm down,” he snapped. “Both of you.”
They did not look at him, glaring at me, but at least their hands moved away from their knives.
“I could have taken them,” I whispered, though not low enough apparently. Andrew grunted, cuffed me on the back of the head, then walked past me to join the other members of the troop.
“What is he doing here?” one of the dwarves demanded.
“He came to see me,” Kit repeated. “I don’t know why.” He turned to look at me. “Now, we… We need to decide what to do with him.”
One of the dwarf’s hands strayed back towards his knife. “I know what we can do to him.”
Andrew nodded and grinned at me. I was really starting to hate him.
“No,” Kit said.
“But he killed Oaks,” Andrew burst out. He looked back at me with murder in his eyes. “The bastard murdered our illusionist, I say we kill him.”
I felt my stomach drop. Shit! My suspicions had been right, then. The illusionist. The stupid bugger trapped in my head had been their illusionist. And every single man and woman in this room – apart perhaps for Kit – believed that I had killed him. At best, they would kill me themselves. At worse, they would decide to hand me over to de Vayre… and the questionners in the Tower.
My chances for escape were even grimmer. Even if I somehow managed to get free of the ropes, overcome the nine people in the room, get out of the theatre without one of the other actors seeing and recognising me, every guard, runners, thieftaker, bounty hunter and ratcatcher in all three Crowns would be looking for me.
In a word: I was right and royally buggered.